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Eli Remembers    by Ruth Vander Zee, Marian Schneider & Bill Farnsworth order for
Eli Remembers
by Ruth Vander Zee
Order:  USA  Can
Eerdmans, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

As families pass on religious and other traditions to younger generations, sometimes they have to share the burden of devastating family secrets. Ruth Vander Zee, who is known for taking on mature topics in her picture books, wrote this story about the Holocaust, inspired by a true story from Marian Sneider's family.

In this book, Eli's great-grandmother Gussie lights seven candles each Rosh Hashanah, which is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Everyone always seems so sad, and no one will answer Eli's questions as to why this ritual occurs every year.

After his great-grandmother passes away, the entire family travels to Lithuania. Standing by a deep pit in Ponar Forest, the family secret is finally revealed to Eli: Gussie's father and all of her siblings were killed during the Holocaust. The pit was a mass grave where tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews were burned. Eli's father goes into further detail about World War Two. In a touching moment, Eli asks if children were also murdered, and he learns the awful truth.

In keeping with the pledge of many Holocaust survivors to never forget, at the end of the book, Eli tells his grandfather, 'It won't be a secret anymore. I'll always remember.'

The illustrations are utterly exquisite. Featuring muted shades, the realistic paintings are mesmermizing - Farnsworth masterfully captures the family's solemn expressions and the bleak Lithuanian landscape. Standing out among the illustrations is a phenomenal portrait of Grandpa Sam, looking off into the distance at a family Rosh Hashanah gathering.

I know we will hold on to this book for when my children are older - it will be a gentle way to introduce the subject of the Holocaust.

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